Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Other Woman - Saihmingi Speaks

The wife is always the last to know. And I was no exception. I was too confident, too secure in my marriage that I didn’t see that like any other marriage ours could also fail, and I didn’t know we had to work on it to keep it alive and keep it growing. I just assumed that after marriage people lived happily ever after; maybe I was influenced by all the love stories I read growing up where the hero and heroine overcame all the obstacles in their way and got married. We never knew what happened afterwards, and we didn’t care because the lovers were united and all was right with the world.

When I first heard that my husband was having an affair with one of his colleagues I didn’t believe it. This was Zamtea we were talking about, my best friend of more than twenty-five years, the person I knew better than anyone else. It was my sister who first told me about the affair, and we had a big argument because of it. She was very sure of it, she had heard about it from one of the students who lived in her neighbourhood, and I got mad at her for not believing in my marriage and listening to silly rumours. I even demanded to know the identity of the student who was spreading lies about my husband. “Zamtea had many female colleagues and cannot be blamed for having friends,” were my exact words.

Then I heard it from my neighbour, a busybody who poked her nose into everyone’s affair. I never believed anything she said, but when she spoke about my husband and his sudden interest in teaching and going to college the seed of doubt was planted in my mind. It was common knowledge that Zamtea wanted to quit teaching and become a professional photographer. But we had two small children, I didn’t work, money was tight, and giving up a good job was a risk we didn’t dare take.

One day my sister came visiting. It had been a month since our last discussion, and she came to my house to “shake some sense in to me.” I didn’t need any shaking. I had observed Zamtea for the past few weeks and noticed that he always came home late, took his phone wherever he went, was extra conscious about his appearance, and never talked about college anymore. We hadn’t made love in weeks; he would stay up late and I never knew when he’d come to bed. My two daughters kept me very busy, and most nights I was asleep by nine o’clock. My sister came prepared to fight, and was surprised by my easy surrender. She told me everything she knew; the girlfriend’s name was Mahriati, the affair had been going on for about five months now, and the whole college knew. She said they tried to hide it but there are some things you cannot hide.

I had my doubts, but turning those doubts into belief and then accepting them was harder than I imagined. The first emotion I felt was anger. How could he fall in love with another person? Was I not good enough for him? Did I not love him and was I not a good mother to his children? How could he do this do me? How dare he do this to me!

If my sister had not been with me that day I'm sure I would have packed my things and went off to my father’s house. I even tried to burn his clothes but my sister stopped me, physically held me down, and told me to act like an adult. I was not easy to calm down. Was I not Saihmingliani Sailo, descendant of a famous chief? My ancestors were known for their greatness and bravery, and was I just going to sit there and let a man cheat on me and make me look like a fool? How people would have laughed behind my back! How could I ever show my face in public again? Everywhere I go pity whispers would follow me. Now I would be forever known as the wife who drove her husband into some other woman’s arms.

The sight of my two daughters with their surprised and scared faces calmed me down. They had never seen me like this before. I was always hot tempered, but marriage had turned me into a gentler person and I didn’t remember shouting at them any time. I loved them more than anything else, and I wasn’t going to let them grow up without a father. People could make fun of me, but no one was going to hurt my babies, no one was going to laugh at them because their parents were divorced. I would fight to keep my husband, and I would fight to keep my marriage alive.

My sister offered to wait with me for Zamtea to come home, but I sent her home. This was between my husband and me, and although I appreciated her concern and would welcome her support I did not want her to be around. I was a grown woman, capable of sorting out her marital troubles.

Zamtea came home, and although I’d promised myself that I would not get angry, seeing him made me lose control again. I screamed and shouted at him until I ran out of words. He kept quiet and waited for me to finish, and when he spoke he was full of remorse. He didn’t deny anything, but said he would stop seeing her and would even try to move to a different college. I was prepared for war, and this time it was me who was surprised by his easy surrender.

I forgave him. After all, he was my husband, the father of my children, and I still loved him.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Other Woman - Zamtea's Story

“If you get someone pregnant then you will have to marry her,” my mother used to say to me and my brother, and to my sisters she said “If you become pregnant then you will have to marry the baby’s father, I don’t want my grandchildren to be illegitimate children.” Sure enough when I was twenty-nine I got my girlfriend pregnant, and I became a husband and a father just after I turned thirty. Secretly I wished the baby would share my birthday, or at least my birth month, but she was born three weeks after my birthday, in another month. I loved my wife very much, and the birth of our daughter made our love even stronger.

I met my wife when I was eight years old. We were the two smallest kids in our class, and so naturally we sat together on the first row, just in front of the teacher’s desk.  My first memory of her is when she dropped her lunch box and the teacher asked me to share my lunch with her. She didn’t remember it though, and said I made it up because I wanted to make her cook for me as some sort of payback. The argument still stands unresolved. She is a very strong person, full of life and energy, always active and very sure of herself. My friends sometimes joked that she should have been born a man, and to tell you the truth, I don’t disagree.  But she was a good friend, a good girlfriend, and now a good mother, and she loved me more than anything; what more could a man want?

I had never had another girlfriend; in fact I never looked at other girls. Saihmingi was more than enough for me. And when we took our vows to love and cherish each other for better or worse, I meant it with all my heart. I never even thought that I would be unfaithful to her and love another woman.

Mahriati was everything Saihmingi was not. She was soft spoken, had flowing long hair and the most beautiful skin. She had this vulnerability that makes you immediately want to reach out and protect her from the world. Her hair was the first thing I noticed about her. It was straight and long, covering her breasts, always clean and shiny, and I wanted to touch it and feel it slide between my fingers. Saihmingi had cut her hair just after our second daughter was born because she didn’t have time to care for it properly. I would often fantasise about Mahriati wearing nothing, her hair covering her breasts, and I would imagine how it would feel to run my hands down her hair, touch her breasts, that smooth skin, well you know. Thinking about her made me feel guilty as if I was already cheating on Saihmingi. I was happily married and was not supposed to let sinful thoughts invade my mind, but I couldn't stop myself from thinking those things.
To cut a long story short, Mahriati and I soon got involved. I loved her, but not in the way I loved my wife. She was smart and knew how to make me feel good. No she didn’t shower me with praises or act like a small helpless child, but she had this quality, this thing about her that when you were with her everything seemed possible. She made me feel strong and manly, kind of like her knight in shining armour, but at the same time she didn’t expect anything from me. She loved me just the way I was.

But as much as I loved Mahriati and she loved me, we knew that our relationship was doomed. It had no future. We both knew it would end someday and we would have to say goodbye forever. Knowing that we had very little time together made me love her even more, made me want her more than ever. It was a very happy time for me but a very frustrating time at the same time. I couldn’t show my love for her to the world, I could not tell anyone about it and we always lived in fear that we would be discovered. I would look at the young lovers walking in the campus and I would be filled with envy. I wished I could throw everything away, forget about what the world would say and shout to the world that I was in love.

I wanted to leave my wife and be with Mahriati, but she wisely said no. She didn’t want us to feel guilty for the rest of our lives, she said I had made my vows to my wife to love her forever and I should keep that vow. But she didn’t put an end to our relationship and continued to love me just as before. I knew I should stop seeing her and be a good husband and father, but I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Mahriati, couldn’t bear not to hear her voice late in the night, and I guess what I feared most was the thought that she would find some other man and would belong to some stranger. I knew it was going to happen, some unknown man was going to love her and marry her, he would hold her hand and she would laugh at his jokes, and she would bear his children. How I hated that man, and how I wished it was me instead! I cursed fate for its cruelty, for bringing her so late into my life, for giving me a taste of heaven and then taking it away from me.

One day I went home, late as usual, and one look at Saihmingi’s angry face told me that she knew.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Other Woman

If you really think about it, her family had always been unlucky when it comes to marriage. Mahriati was fourteen years old when her father divorced her mother and took in a new wife. She was too young to understand the complications of love and marriage, but old enough to be embarrassed by her father’s behaviour and definitely old enough to resent her stepmother. She didn’t address her stepmother for one year, didn’t call her “Mother”, and when she finally addressed her she called her “Nu Rammawi”. There was no way she was going to address Rammawii, the shameless home wrecker as Mother. She only has one mother, her precious mother who had to go back to her father’s house and live with her elder brother and his family. What she didn’t understand was that her stepmother, who was all of twenty-six years, was just a girl herself, full of insecurities and anxiety, eager to be loved and accepted. Her mother didn’t work, which meant she could not go and live with her in her uncle’s house, so Mahriati and her elder brother Maruata lived with their father and stepmother.

As far as stepmothers go, Rammawii was not so bad. She behaved more like an elder sister, never admonishing them for their teenage tantrums and pretending that all was right in the house when in fact the two children hardly spoke to her. To them, she was still the evil woman who was the reason for their mother’s departure. She tried desperately to win their approval, buying them clothes and little gifts, but all she got in return was a sarcastic “I know you spent my father’s money on this, if I want clothes I can ask him money myself.”

After Mahriati finished her Class 10 exams, her father sent her to Shillong where she spent the next seven years studying. Living away from home made her forget her hatred for her stepmother, and when she went home she was cordial to her, but you cannot say she was friendly. She accepted her father for who he was, and realised that whether she liked it or not her stepmother was always going to be a part of her life. Maruata had gone to college in Aizawl, and at the age of 20 had got married to a classmate, and had a son. The child was barely a year old when his mother ran off with another man, leaving the baby in the care of his father. Maruata had no idea how to take care of the baby, and so it was Rammawii who raised the child. She was delighted, not having a child herself, and enjoyed every moment. The baby changed their lives. He became the centre of their world, and brought the much needed peace in their home.

Mahriati came home with a post graduate degree in Mathematics, and after successfully clearing the NET exam, worked as a lecturer at Pachhunga College. It was there that she met Zamtea, a lecturer in the Mizo Department. She didn’t pay much attention to him in the beginning. They were colleagues and were polite to each other, and they never spoke to each other except for the Hellos and How are yous.

It could be rightly said that they became friends on the day of the staff picnic when he dropped her home. They lived in nearby localities and so when he offered her a ride home she gladly accepted. They talked about the college, the student unions, the professors, and both were surprised at the ease they felt being around each other. There were no awkward silences, no groping around for suitable topics; it was like they had been friends forever. They exchanged phone numbers, and a friendship began that soon blossomed into love.

She would lie in bed and think about him. It was amazing, really, the way they connected. Sometimes it felt like she could read his mind and he could read hers. They could look at each other across the crowded staff room and know what the other person was thinking. A look was all that was required to communicate. They tried to keep their affair a secret, because it would set the gossip mills churning into overtime, and it was not encouraged by the college. Lecturers and professors were supposed to keep a clean image, and should always keep in mind that they were influencing a hundred young minds. It was very tiring, always hiding and pretending not to notice each other. Sometimes she wondered if her colleagues noticed how she never spoke to him in public, how she sat far away from him. She would look at him from a distance and feel her heart bursting with love. She longed to be with him all the time, ached to touch him and just be with him.

Mahriati looked at her reflection in the mirror. She had never felt, happier, more beautiful than she did now. She knew she didn’t have much time. It wouldn’t be long before people discovered their affair, and her reputation would be ruined for ever. She had had a few boyfriends before, awkward boys who didn’t know how to carry a conversation, young men who often expected everything and gave nothing in return, but Zamtea was different. He was ten years older, knew how to make her laugh and feel loved, and knew when to push and when to stay away. He respected her as a woman and didn’t feel threatened by her intelligence, her profession. To him, she was an equal.

She knew that very soon they will have to part ways. Because Zamtea was a married man, married for the last five years to a woman he had known all his life. Though she wanted to be with him forever, she didn’t want to come in between Zamtea and his wife. She didn’t want Zamtea’s children to suffer the way she and her brother did, didn’t want to be the person who divided a family into two camps. She knew all about the anger, the resentment and the bitterness. But for now, she wanted to have him, at least for a while. She was ready to lose, ready for the embarrassment and disgrace that was to come. Didn’t someone say “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”?

She thought about fate, and how we really have no control over it. She looked at her reflection once again, and realised that she had become the person she once hated. She had become The Other Woman.